Foreign key to mini might

Screening sales sought as Euro partners fuel prod'n

“Jesus” may have bested Regis during the May sweeps, but don’t expect producers to suddenly start making many more minis.

While the genre does provide what’s known as “event programming,” it’s still hugely expensive to mount such a series. Only the most well-heeled U.S. players can produce these lavish shows — and only if they have European partners already in place.

Almost all the minis shown on U.S. TV networks during sweeps have already been spoken for in Europe. The L.A. Screenings will be an occasion to do mop-up on these minis as well as to introduce upcoming projects still in the financing stage.

“Jesus” itself is an offering from Beta Epsilon, the joint venture company formed by Silvio Berlusconi’s Italian production powerhouse and Leo Kirch’s distribution juggernaut Beta.

In the beginning

Klaus Zimmermann, head of marketing at Beta Epsilon, pointed out that “Jesus” is part of an ongoing Bible strand involving some 21 hours of programming. There are co-production partners in place in major territories.

“We shared the same vision from the start. Only the U.S. was not in place when we started the project. But we eventually lined up TNT (for the early installments of the strand), and now we are on CBS.”

Zimmermann said the “Jesus” miniseries has been sold in 34 countries around the world, including China.

Indie distrib Alfred Haber has set up shop at the L.A. Screenings and will be handling Latin American sales of “Jesus.” Latin Americans typically do a lot of their annual buying while at the Screenings.

Soldier stories

Beta Epsilon’s Zimmermann will be concentrating on funding “Napoleon,” a four-parter toplining Christian Clavereir and John Malkovich, and “Les Miserables,” toplining Malkovich and Gerard Depardieu. The latter mini has been picked up Stateside by Fox Family Channel.

Similarly, Hallmark’s two May sweeps miniseries — “Arabian Nights” on ABC and “Jason and the Argonauts” on NBC — have also been widely sold abroad.

Joel Denton, Hallmark’s head of international sales, said “Jason” and “Arabian Nights” have been sold to major broadcasters in all the Euro territories.

Denton explained that the financial model his company uses for miniseries is not “dissimilar to independent feature film financing.” It involves revenues from video, since minis like “Jason” and “Arabian Nights” are collectibles.

A decade of malaise

The fourth mini that aired during the May sweeps, NBC’s “The ’70s,” may have a harder time abroad.

NBC Enterprises VP Sergio Getzel said the mini was part of the Peacock’s “The ’60s” franchise and the net’s Millennium Celebration, featuring different aspects of the 20th century.

But while “The ’60s” seemed to have much more resonance abroad —and sold to several Euro territories — there are so far no takers for “The ’70s” elsewhere.